One of the great things about America is its mish-mash of cultures, many of which are celebrated at festivals around the country. In this article, Top Value Reviews highlights 30 of the best cultural festivals in the United States. Our recognized festivals range from celebrations of certain ethnicities such as Hawaiian or Brazilian, to reenactments of some of the major historical events that shaped America as we know it.
The annual Aloha Festivals are a series of cultural celebrations held on a different Hawaiian island each year. The event features parades, street parties, concerts, and other traditional Hawaiian spectacles. The Festivals are free for all spectators, whether native Hawaiian or tourist, and celebrate the preservation of the unique Hawaiian culture and heritage.
American Folk Festivals
The American Folk Festival, held in Bangor, Maine each year, is a unique celebration of different cultures found throughout the country. Festival goers will experience various musical performances and dances, plus a diverse selection of food, demonstrations, and traditional handmade crafts. And Bangor happens to be the ideal host for such a festival. Between special festival events, guests can enjoy a tour of the historical Bangor Opera House, a performance by the Penobscot Theatre Company, or a walk through the fascinating Bangor Museum.
Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Festival
For more than half a century, the Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Festival has taken place during the first weekend in August in Nappanee, Indiana. Festival highlights include:
- four stages of live entertainment
- musical theater performances
- guided tours of the local Amish country
- traditional Amish wagon rides
During the four-day festival, more than 70,000 visitors come out to enjoy the festivities and browse their way through the more than 350 artists and craftsmen selling their handmade wares. No wonder Sunshine Artist magazine named the Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Festival one of the Best Traditional Crafts Festivals in the U.S.
Lexington, North Carolina
The small town of Lexington, North Carolina is the self-proclaimed Barbecue Capital of the World. So it should come as no surprise that the town plays host to one of the best festivals America has to offer. Four hundred venders come out each year to tout everything from smoked pork shoulders to homemade BBQ sauce. Upwards of 200,000 people come to enjoy the food, antique car show, live entertainment, and other special events.
Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment
For better or worse, the Civil War is an integral part of American history. Each July, more than 50,000 people travel to the actual site of battle to witness an historically accurate reenactment of one of the war’s bloodiest battles. More than 11,000 costumed troops volunteer along with some 400 horses and nearly 100 cannons. The troops act out real-time reenactments of some of the battle’s most historic moments, while live music and various demonstrations help to fill in the gaps.
New Ulm, Minnesota
Just the name Bavarian Blast sounds like, well, a blast, doesn’t it? Held each year in the historic, German-influenced town of New Ulm, Minnesota, this increasingly popular festival features live music from authentic German bands, a 10K Race, a parade, and of course, lots of food and beer. Held in July, the Bavarian Blast is a great way to tide you over while you’re waiting for Oktoberfest.
Boston Tea Party Reenactment
Each year, Boston locals and tourists come together in their finest tricorne hats to recreate the day in which American colonists sparked the Revolution by dumping tea into Boston Harbor, protesting yet another tax on the colonies. Over 100 dedicated re-enactors take part, each of whom is dressed in full costume and protesting in the lingo of 1773. The Boston Tea Party Reenactment is one of most exciting cultural and historical events in the country. If you want to take part, you’ll need to reserve your tickets (and costumes!) well in advance. The event always sells out!
Sheboygan, Wisconsin is the “Bratwurst Capital of the World” thanks to the German settlers who came to the area in the mid-1800s. The annual Bratwurst Days festival is the celebration of all things sausage. The festival includes:
- the crowning of the Bratwurst Queen
- live music
Vendors serve bratwursts any and every way you can possibly imagine. There’s even a bratwurst eating competition, in which one individual can win $500.
New York City, New York
Held in early September, Brazilian Day is an annual festival celebrating both Brazil’s independence and the United States’ large Brazilian population. The Day resembles a very large block party. It’s complete with some of Brazil’s most popular singers and bands, traditional arts and crafts stands, and of course, tons of authentic and delicious Brazilian food. Want to immerse yourself in Brazilian culture, but can’t get to New York? While NYC is undoubtedly the largest and most famous such celebration in the U.S. But Brazilian Day actually takes place in many cities around the world, including Philadelphia.
Burning of Zozobra
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Burning Man may get all of the attention, but let’s be honest, that desert festival has nothing on Santa Fe’s annual Burning of Zozobra. According to legend, Zozobra — or “Old Man Gloom” — is a monster who comes back to life each year thanks to humanity’s most evil deeds. Zozobra, depicted as a 50-foot-tall marionette, tries to enlist the help of the local children. Fortunately, the crowd comes to the aid of the kiddos, all while shouting, “Burn him!” Ultimately, the crowd’s requests are obliged. The creature is set aflame whilst the local crowds party with dancing, live music, and good food. This fiery event is one of the country’s oldest cultural festivals, and is considered the city’s official kickoff to the famous Fiestas de Santa Fe.
Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee
Angels Camps, California
In 1928, the small Northern California town of Angels Camp in Calaveras County hosted its first annual Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee. It was to celebrate the paving of their Main Street and the success of one-time local Mark Twain. Twain immortalized the town in his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Visitors wanting to take part in the frog jumping extravaganza can choose a frog, offer it a few words of encouragement, and then hope it jumps the furthest of all the competitive frogs. A jumping record of 21 ft. 5.75 in. was set by Rosie the Ribeter in 1986.The Jubilee is only one part of the much larger Calaveras County Fair, where visitors can enjoy:
- live music
- talent shows
- carnival rides
- lots of traditional craft competitions.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin is home to the United States’ largest Italian-American festival. It’s held each year at the massive Henry Maier Festival Park. Festa Italiana features loads of Italian food, live music and other entertainment, and traditional arts and crafts. At the end of the festival, Bartolotta Fireworks puts on one of the largest fireworks shows found anywhere in Wisconsin. No wonder Milwaukee is nicknamed the “City of Festivals.”
As the most famous rodeo in the country, Cheyenne’s Frontier Days festival celebrates all things cowboy and the Wild West. Frontier Days kicks off with a Pamplona-style “walking of the steers.” It then dives into 10 exciting days of rodeo events, bullfighting, an air show, cook offs, and live musical performances by some of the biggest names in music.
Gilroy Garlic Festival
California’a Central Valley — the bread basket of America — is home to dozens of food-themed festivals, but none is as iconic as Gilroy’s Garlic Festival. Taking place over a long weekend each July, the festival sets out to prove that it is indeed the “Garlic Capital of the World.” The small town ships out 70 million pounds of garlic each year. Dishes featuring garlic and ranging from pasta, to fries, to garlic-flavored ice cream can be found down Gourmet Alley. Other fun events include:
- Iron Chef-style cooking contests
- live music
- the crowning of Miss Gilroy Garlic.
Glasgow Highland Games
With a name like Glasgow, you can be sure the town enjoys a proud Scottish heritage. That heritage is celebrated each year on the weekend following Memorial Day in the form of the Glasgow Highland Games. This unique celebration has grown exponentially since its founding. Today it consists of:
- traditional highland games in which both pros and amateurs can compete
- bagpipe and highland dancing competitions
- vendors selling cool Scottish merchandise
- and even a Ceilidh.
Key West, Florida
Key West, Florida is famous for three things: conchs, beaches, and Ernest Hemingway. Each year, Key West hosts its famous Hemingway Days to celebrate its one-time resident. Some of the events include a Running of the Bulls (don’t worry, it’s not nearly as dangerous as the traditional event featured in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises). It also includes:
- a fishing tournament
- educational discussions and lectures about Hemingway and his works
- perhaps most famously, a Hemingway Look-Alike Contest.
International Balloon Festival
Albuquerque, New Mexico
You may have seen the pictures of countless hot air balloons hovering over the red landscape of New Mexico, but seeing this spectacular sight in person is something else altogether. Each year, during early October, Albuquerque, New Mexico hosts its famous International Balloon Festival. More than 500 colorful balloons are launched over the course of the nine-day festival. The event represents the region’s strong Mexican culture, and is one of the year’s biggest tourism draws for New Mexico.
Magic City Caribbean Food & Music Festival
Birmingham, Alabama is a proud town with a heritage built upon everything from a strong Caribbean influence to the lasting effects of the Civil Rights Movement. Each year, that heritage is celebrated with the Magic City Caribbean Food & Music Festival, a free and family-friendly event featuring:
- delicious Caribbean food
- live music
- traditions covering both the Caribbean and Birmingham itself.
Maine Lobster Festival
Every summer, the small town of Rockland, Maine plays host to the Maine Lobster Festival. More than 25,000 pounds of lobster — all caught fresh off the coast — are consumed by the 80,000 festival goers. Other events include:
Then there’s the colorful Great International Lobster Crate Race, during which contestants must run across a series of floating lobster crates.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Top Value Reviews probably isn’t the first place you’ve heard of Mardi Gras. But as one of the most famous cultural festivals in the world, it absolutely belongs on our list. The two-week festival stretches from just after the Epiphany until Ash Wednesday, and celebrates the coming of Lent. Parties ranging from loud, raucous street gatherings to formal balls are organized by local social clubs and organizations. Everyone dresses in colors like purple, green, and gold to celebrate the season.
Minnesota Renaissance Festival
The Minnesota Renaissance Festival certainly isn’t the only Renaissance festival in the country, but it is one of the best and most popular. Attendees range from the verging-on-professionals to first timers. Fortunately, there’s enough for anyone and everyone over the seven themed weekends. Artisans and vendors sell everything from turkey legs, to jewelry, to locally produced wine. Entertainment like live music and jousting takes place across 16 stages and entertainment areas.
Mobile International Festival
Like aforementioned Birmingham, Mobile is another Alabama town with a rich cultural history. To celebrate that history, Mobile hosts its annual Mobile International Festival. More than 70 countries are featured at this impressive cultural festival, and visitors to the event are invited to experience each and every one of them. Food, cultural exhibits, and live entertainment highlight the festival.
Molokai Ka Hula Piko
Kaana, Molokai, Hawaii
Hula is often celebrated in Hawaii, but never more so than during the Molokai Ka Hula Piko. It’s held every spring in Kaana on the island of Molokai — the spot where Hawaiian legend says Laka, the goddess of hula, created the hula. This fun and traditional cultural festival kicks off with an early-morning ceremony at Pu’u Nana. The fun continues with:
- hula demonstrations
- cultural lectures
- activities for all ages
- Hawaiian food.
The purpose of the festival is to spread educational awareness about hula as a form of Hawaiian art.
National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
If you find yourself in the middle of Nevada during the dead of winter, stick around for the one-of-a-kind National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. What exactly is cowboy poetry? It’s any poetry a cowboy likes. This annual event, which has taken place in Elko every year since 1984, welcomes cowboys, cowgirls, and those who have never seen a real-life cow to participate in the open mic sessions that highlight the event.
National Shrimp Festival
Gulf Shores, Alabama
As Forest Gump reminded us, shrimp and the Gulf Coast are practically synonymous. Every October since 1971, the small town of Gulf Shores, Alabama has drawn crowds of more than 250,000 for its National Shrimp Festival. The four-day event attracts more than a quarter of a million visitors and 250 vendors. All of whom come for the fun involved in such activities as shrimp cooking competitions, 5k and 10k races, and live entertainment.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Easily the most famous Shakespeare festival in the United States, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is also likely the best Shakespeare festival in the United States. Each year in Ashland, crowds of over 100,000 flock to see some 600 professional actors perform a rotating mix of the Bard’s most iconic plays. The festival even includes some performances of other favorites such as The Great Society, A Wrinkle in Time, and Into the Woods.
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Sturgis, South Dakota
Every August, the population of Sturgis explodes as nearly half a million people ride into South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Hundreds of vendors come to town to sell everything from food, to motorcycle paraphernalia, to tattoos. The 10-day festival includes lots of motorcycle-themed events, including a wall-of-death ride, as well as live music, stunt performances, and even midget bowling.
Tulip Time Festival
When it comes to tulips and spring time, Holland, Michigan makes a pretty great alternative to the Holland of Europe. This charming small town has hosted its Tulip Time festival off and on since 1929 to celebrate its Dutch heritage. Every May, people come from more than 40 countries to see the four million tulips on display. They also enjoy:
- arts and crafts shows
- carnival rides
- Dutch food.
Three parades also take place, including the Volksparade, in which participants dress in traditional Dutch costume.
Twins Days Festival
Where else would a Twin Days Festival be held but Twinsburg, Ohio? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this doubly fantastic festival attracts the “largest annual gathering of twins in the world.” Thousands of twin sets converge on suburban Twinsburg each year to take part in parades, contests, talent shows, and even some (totally safe) research projects. Don’t worry, even singletons can come and enjoy the food, entertainment, games, rides, and fireworks that also make up this unique cultural festival.
White Linen Night
New Orleans, Louisiana
Leave it to New Orleans to host not one, but two of the best cultural festivals in the United States. On the first Saturday evening in August, New Orleans residents and visitors flock to Julia Street in the Warehouse District to take part in the largest art gathering of the year. What makes this festival doubly unique is that almost everyone dons white linen. This commemorates the days without air conditioning when people wore white linen to reflect the heat and stay cool. Don’t worry if your white linen looks a little less white by the end of the night. A week later, Royal Street hosts Dirty Linen Night, when people socialize and chow down on dirty rice and dirty martinis.